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Jewish Journal

Keeping Security a Priority

by Wendy J. Madnick

August 5, 2009 | 10:24 pm

Ten years after the shooting of three children, a counselor and a receptionist by a white supremacist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, and then his subsequent murder of a Philippines-born postal worker, the bond forged between the Jewish community and the Asian American community remains strong. But concerns about safety continue to trouble Jewish leaders in Los Angeles.

On Monday, Aug. 10, the anniversary of the shootings, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California and the family of slain postal worker Joseph Ileto will host a memorial event commemorating the tragedy. Included in the event will be an educational program by the Anti-Defamation League, according to Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director.

“I know for the victims, the tragedy never goes away,” Susskind said in an interview. “All we can do as a community is use this as a learning opportunity.”

Susskind named three lessons the Los Angeles community can continue to learn from the incident: “One, never to take lightly hate speech, because those threats can be escalated into heinous acts. Two, you need to be vigilant about security; and three, many extremists are equal-opportunity haters. What starts out as anti-Semitism becomes anti-Asian, anti-African American and so on. People forget this, that a guy [Furrow] murdered a Philippine American postal worker for nothing, other than his race.”

It is the security part, Susskind notes, that is particularly difficult for the Jewish community. While measures were stepped up significantly at various Jewish institutions after the JCC shooting and the attacks of Sept. 11 — including the hiring of security guards, installation of locked gates and enforcement of membership ID at many Jewish sites — some of that heightened awareness seems to have worn off, she said. Susskind believes that is a mistake, noting that during the prosecution of Buford Furrow, he admitted to rejecting several other potential targets because it was clear they had security in place.

“We always talk about looking like a hard target. It’s a particularly difficult balancing act for synagogues and other Jewish centers of life —  you want to be open to the public and yet be uninviting for extremists,” Susskind said.

The ADL’s annual statistics on hate crimes, released last June, showed an increase in the number of reported incidents of anti-Semitism in California, up from 186 in 2007 to 226 in 2008. 

Although there has not been a corresponding increase in reports of anti-Asian crimes, APALC spokesman Shukry Cattan said hate crimes are still a grave concern for the Asian American community.

“The shooting paved the way for awareness and prevention of hate crimes in the city,” Cattan said. “But over the years, awareness has gone down. There’s a foundation around this work, but it has to be built up again for hate crimes to be prevented.”

Carol Koransky, executive director of The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, said she understands why security issues are not at the forefront as much as they once were, noting that it is difficult to live a normal life at that intensity.

“Instead, we have to ask, how can we do this better at the next crisis? Did we learn something that can be useful?” Koransky said.

On Wednesday, Aug. 19, the Anti-Defamation League will hold its annual Jewish Community Security Briefing to provide guidelines to area synagogues in preparation for the High Holy Days. There will also be a special briefing on the LAPD’s new Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative. This new program allows law enforcement to gather, document, analyze and share information about terrorist-related suspicious activities reported by synagogues or other Jewish institutions.

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